Access to health care: Darcy Allen’s story

Darcy Allen

Dr. Darcy Allen was forced to stop practising dentistry due to debilitating back pain. What began in 2007 as a seemingly minor hockey injury gradually turned his life into a nightmare of around-the-clock pain. Normal tasks, like shovelling snow or tying shoelaces, became impossible. On one occasion, Dr. Allen watched helplessly as his one-year-old daughter, while crawling on a bed, lost her balance and fell off, and he could not move to catch her. All he could do was lie on his back in a futile attempt to ease the pain.

“It got to the point where it was like, ‘Do I live this for another year or two or do I go and pay for it myself?”

“It got to the point where it was like, ‘Do I live this for another year or two or do I go and pay for it myself?”

Dr. Allen suffered moderate but increasing pain for eight months (January to September 2008), then severe pain for eight months (October 2008 to May 2009) before obtaining a doctor’s formal recommendations for surgery.

He finally received a referral for surgery in 2009, but no surgery could be performed until September, 2010 – a date later pushed back to June, 2011.

Dr. Allen then waited four more months in a state of severe pain before obtaining the requisite discogram (which would have been a twelve-month wait but for the intervention of the Office of Alberta’s Minister of Health). He was then scheduled to wait a further twelve months for surgery. Four months into his twelve-month wait for surgery, in December 2009, Dr. Allen was told he would need to wait a further eighteen months for surgery. Had Dr. Allen not paid for his own surgery in December of 2009, the total time he would have needed to wait in a state of severe and continuous pain before receiving surgery would have been at least 34 months, or almost three years.

Unable to work, unable to enjoy life, rejecting his state of forced unemployment and unwilling to face another 18 months of severe and continuous pain, Dr. Allen paid $77,503 out of pocket for back surgery in Montana in December, 2009. It significantly reduced his pain and started his slow journey back to good health.

Like Dr. Allen, thousands of Canadians suffer in pain while waiting for surgery or diagnosis. Some die. The Chaoulli v. Quebec  judgment explained how this suffering is caused by the government’s “virtual monopoly” over health care. The Charter’s section 7 right to life, liberty and security of the person is violated by laws that force people to suffer on government waiting lists and deny the right to access health care outside the government’s monopoly.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) was before the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench on behalf of Darcy Allen who has launched a constitutional challenge to the Alberta Government’s health care monopoly.